How Human Relations Made Us More Human

“Do you ever feel like a plastic bag Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again? Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?” (Perry, Fireworks)

In an organization that operates under a classic organization management style, it is easy to feel like nothing more than a plastic bag being blown down the road; no choice in where you go or what you do. Not all companies stayed with the classic management style, some companies adopted a more humane management style: human resources. The main goal of the human resources approach is to do away with the “cog in the machine” feeling that permeated factories and warehouses during the early 20th century, and to focus more on a “company- family” approach where an employee feels appreciated and useful. Mary Parker Follett, Elton Mayo, and Chester Barnard are three researchers whose work focused on the study of human relations management styles in organizations: Follett expressed how human relations management approaches empowered workers by allowing for more open communication and the sharing of information and the use of cooperation to solve problems, Mayo theorized the importance of interpersonal communication within an organization based upon the self-interest and emotional influences of the workers, and Barnard speculated that organizations need to be cooperative systems where individuals are persuaded to accept a common purpose. (Eisenberg, Goodall, & Trethewey, 2010, 72) This is all well and good, but how does it apply to our current working conditions? Is human relations management still a viable approach? Think about the company that you currently work for: do they treat you like a name-less, face-less number? Or do they treat you as “one of the family” within the company?

Take this case study for example:

“The year is 1990. Simmons Insurance Group is a small, highly respected, A-rated subsidiary of a large British conglomerate. The company is traditionally structured with four departments including marketing, financial, sales, and claims. At one time, Simmons had over 200 employees, but today it has been cut back to about 50.

Melissa, a bright, highly motivated individual, has worked for the Simmons Insurance Group for four years. She started as a summer intern right after college graduation working across departments learning the basics about coverage, investigations, liability, damage assessment and settlement of claims. Melissa was a star performer and, at the end of her internship, she was hired full time as a claims associate. Within a year of her hire date, Melissa was promoted to senior claims associate. Although she works long hours, Melissa enjoys her job for the variety of skills it requires. She is well liked by her coworkers in all departments, particularly for her willingness to lend a hand with any problem that arises. Melissa has hopes of being promoted to claims manager soon. However, due to cutbacks, the claims department recently experienced substantial downsizing and Melissa’s group has already been cut in half.

Fearing that her job is next on the chopping block, Melissa approaches senior management with the idea that a new position be created for Melissa. Melissa witnessed problems arise when there was miscommunication between departments. Seeing a need to break up the silos of the organizational structure, Melissa suggests that her job title be Director of Internal Support and that her job responsibilities would include supporting all departments with whatever needs arise but most importantly to bridge departments to ensure consistent, open communication and excellent customer relations. Senior managers are wary of the new position, particularly given budget constraints. They meet to discuss the matter.”


How would managers react to Melissa’s proposal?

What factors would they consider when determining Melissa’s fate?

The human relations approach identifies some main points that can help us in discussing this case study: 1.communication structure in an organization is relational and needs-based, 2. companies need to utilize organization teams to accomplish tasks, 3.organization to solve problems, and 4.empowered workers to help the company thrive (Eisenberg, et al., 2010, 72-4). At first, the board of senior managers at Simmons Insurance Group may be leery about Melissa’s idea of forming a new position. However, after reviewing her quality of work within the organization and the benefits that could be achieved by implementing the new position, the senior management would agree to the new position and offer it to Melissa. We know that Melissa has the interdepartmental communication skills needed to be effective in the new position and to oversee an organizational team who will resolve customer issues. Plus she has empowered herself to identify a policy and performance issue within the organization and has come up with a way to meet the changing needs of the company.


What would communication related to this decision look like?

Would Melissa be included in the conversation?

The most influential communications related to the senior management’s decision would be the performance tracker/reviews of Melissa’s years in the company, as well as performance tracker/reviews for all of the departments  the new position would oversee. This would give the board an idea on where any organizational gaps may fall in the different departments and if Melissa has the skills necessary to fill in those gaps effectively. Other communications that may be utilized would be customer reviews on how issues are currently being handled. This will help the management see if there is an actual, current need for a new process to be implemented. In the human relations approach, open communication is a vital aspect to the “company- family” feeling organizations try to foster, and so the management would initially want Melissa to be included in parts of the conversation where she can help identify gaps that she feels need to be addressed, who she currently communicates with in other departments, and how she feels the new position can impact the organization. (Miller, 2009)


What will become of Melissa?

If the need for the new role is present and will help increase productivity and efficiency in the workers, leading to a more positive customer experience, the Senior Management will offer the job to Melissa. In human relations, effective managers need to work and communicate in ways where they can encourage their workers (Eisenberg, et al., 2010, 72).  Simmons Insurance Group will want to put Melissa in a manager role because of the two skills at which Melissa already currently excels: communication and persuasion.

The ability to be treated like a human, and not like a machine, is the biggest advancement that the human relations management approach has afforded workers throughout multiple organizations. Human relations has helped to advance the creativity and value of the individual workers, pulling us from the classical management era of the Industrial Revolution, and into a more contented work era. However, there are still some downfalls to the human relations approach; while it does focus on treating employees more like individuals and empowering them to work their best, it still does not provide any substantial remuneration for employees to want to stay with a company —  There is no focus on employee benefits or balancing employee needs with company needs. Having the opportunity, like the one presented to Melissa, to be able to enjoy a job and become successful and valued in that job role is a large difference in an employee’s relations with their companies, but is it enough to keep employees on the payroll?


Eisenberg, Goodall, & Trethewey. (2010) Organizational communication: Balancing creativity and constraint. (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Miller, K. (2009). Organizational communication: Approaches & processes. (5th ed.). NY: Wadsworth. Chapter 3.

Firework Lyrics. (n.d.). Katy Perry –. Retrieved November 16, 2013, from


One thought on “How Human Relations Made Us More Human

  1. Kristin,
    Your analysis of the case study was spot on. You incorporated the text and made an accurate hypothesis of Melissa’s future at the Simmons company. Your inclusion of Katy Perry’s song “Firework” really highlighted the idea of employees only being treated like assets.

    Even with Melissa’s new role at the company, I do not think it will be enough to retain employees. The employees will need more security after a downsize, so the company should create incentives to show employees that they are valued.

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